Marcus Rashford burst onto the scene at Manchester United with a debut brace in the Europa League in 2016. The rest, as they say, is history.
But just five days before that famous introduction, on February 20, 2016, Rashford was slogging it out with United’s U21 side in 1-0 defeat to Manchester City.
So what happened to Rashford’s team-mates once he himself was fast-tracked toward stardom? It’s fair to say they’ve enjoyed mixed success…
Joel Pereira (GK)
One of only two players from the starting XI still at United today, Joel Pereira has been on loan to six different clubs since the 2015–16 season.
Jose Mourinho rated him highly, but spells at Rochdale (6 apps), Belenenses (8), Vitoria de Setubal (9), Kortrijk (0) and Hearts (20) aren’t evidence of dramatic progression. At the time of writing, he’s made just one appearance during his 2020-21 loan to Huddersfield, a 4-3 defeat to Stoke.
Sadiq El Fitouri (RB)
Libyan full-back Sadiq El Fitouri spent his youth on a tour of the Northwest. He was at Man City’s academy, then Salford City, then Man United, then he finally scaled the Peak District to join Chesterfield.
At Salford, Paul Scholes and Phil Neville were apparently blown away by his speed.
But he didn’t quite make it anywhere in England, and in 2017 he moved to Al Ahli Tripoli in Libya before a short and unsuccessful spell in Romania.
As far as anyone knows, the defender is currently without a club.
Ro-Shaun Williams (CB)
Speedy centre-back Ro-Shaun Williams grew up a United fan in Whalley Range, and he has featured for England at youth level.
Despite being only 16 at the start of the campaign, Williams was a regular starter for the U21s over 2015-16.
He left United in 2019 to join Shrewsbury of League One, where he’s been an ever-present alongside fellow United graduate Donald Love.
One high-profile own goal notwithstanding, the future looks bright for the 22-year-old.
Timothy Fosu-Mensah (CB)
Another survivor of the 2015–16 U21s, Tim Fosu-Mensah made his senior debut in Rashford’s own Premier League bow: that 3-2 home win against Arsenal.
He even broke into the Dutch senior squad way back in 2017, aged 19, but has found it harder to get minutes at United.
Loan spells at Crystal Palace and Fulham were nothing to write home about, but United triggered a one-year contract extension in April 2020 before subsequently selling him to Bayer Leverkusen in January.
Joe Riley (LB)
Full-back Joe Riley made his first United start on Rashford’s debut, the 5-1 rout of Midtjylland.
That’s where the parallels end. Riley has been at League Two Bradford City since 2018, but the club released him last summer. Their loss appears to be Carlisle United’s gain, however, as he now features regularly in midfield for the promotion-chasing side.
Devonte Redmond (CM)
During the 2015–16 season, six-foot-two midfielder Devonte Redmond was the joint-highest appearance maker for United’s U21s.
He never made it to the first team, and after a brief spell at Salford he now plays for Wrexham in the National League.
Cruelly, United never warned him about his impending release.
“It had been posted on Twitter… the official ‘retained and released’ list,” he told The Athletic. “And that was how I found [out].”
Matty Willock (CM)
United saw enough potential in Matty Willock — brother of Arsenal’s Joe Willock— to send him out on loan four times: to Utrecht, St Johnstone, St Mirren and Crawley.
In 2019, he moved on a free transfer to League One side Gillingham, but he’s had to settle for short cameo appearances off the bench for Steve Evans’ side.
Joe Rothwell (RW)
One of the older members of the U21 side, Joe Rothwell nevertheless rarely featured in 2015–16, getting fewer reserve minutes than Phil Jones.
He moved to Oxford United in the summer of 2016 and impressed over two seasons in League One.
At 26, he’s now a regular for Blackburn in the Championship.
Marcus Rashford (AM)
Rashford made many of his U21 appearances in a central supporting role.
In fact, he only scored a single goal for the U21s — a long-range strike in a 6-1 demolition of Leicester. Nick Powell started that match as United’s lone centre-forward, obviously.
Needless to say, he’s done alright since.
James Weir (LW)
Preston-born James Weir captained the U21s during Rashford’s breakout season, playing more minutes than anyone else.
Like Fosu-Mensah, he made his senior debut in the 3-2 win against Arsenal.
“To see mates you’ve grown up with getting opportunities spurs everybody on and lifts the atmosphere,” he told the Manchester Evening News.
“We all now that at Manchester United you will get chances, but to see it actually happening is great.”
But Weir voluntarily left United shortly after, in the summer of 2016.
He joined Hull, then in the Premier League, but failed to make an impact before joining Wigan (on loan) then Bolton.
In March 2020 the 25-year-old made a leftfield move to join FK Pohronie in Slovakia. He’s scored five goals in 16 appearances this season at the time of writing.
Will Keane (FW)
Get a load of Peter Pan over here.
Having already spent four spells away from the club on loan, Will Keane was 23 years old when United’s U21s failed to muster a goal against Man City.
To put his experience into perspective, he had won United’s ‘Jimmy Murphy Young Player of the Year’ trophy at the end of the 2009–10 season, when Gary Neville was still playing.
Keane finally left United in the summer of 2016.
Despite making 20+ appearances for three separate sides over the last five years, he is yet to surpass a total of three goals for any club.
After a spell with Ipswich in League One, in which he was behind Kayden Jackson and James Norwood in the pecking order, he’s now at beleaguered Wigan, with a career-best five league goals so far in 2020-21.
Scott McTominay (sub)
An 18-year-old Scott McTominay barely featured for the U21s four years ago, but he’s now among United’s most important midfielders.
Demitri Mitchell (sub)
Mitchell made just one senior appearance for United — the final game of the 2016–17 season under Mourinho.
The wing-back also had two loan spells with Hearts, where he scored a couple of goals in the Scottish Cup, but he has missed the entire 2019–20 season with a knee injury, not even featuring in the Premier League 2.
After being released last summer, he signed for Blackpool, continuing his development under former Liverpool Under-23s coach Neil Critchley.